Alleged spies always strived for connections

Cambridge pair known for skills at networking

By Jonathan Saltzman, Shelley Murphy, and John Ellement
Globe Staff / June 30, 2010

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During the year he spent at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government earning a master’s degree, Donald Howard Heathfield seemed like a natural-born networker.

He handed out business cards identifying himself as a student and arranged to have cards printed for others. He planned a spring trip with classmates to France to visit wine caves. When Heathfield joined a Boston consulting firm, his résumé described his strength as “business relationship building.’’

An FBI affidavit suggests Heathfield and his wife, Tracey Lee Ann Foley, relied on those same networking skills to spy on the United States for Russia, with tactics worthy of a John le Carré novel.

Heathfield’s very identity was bogus, the affidavit said, purloined from a deceased Canadian child. The real Donald Howard Heathfield died at 6 weeks old in 1962, his brother David Heathfield of Ontario told the Globe yesterday.

The Cambridge couple, who were arrested Sunday night, lived for the past decade in the United States, pretending to be natives of Canada, the affidavit said. They patiently built contacts with influential Americans, pumped them for information about US foreign policy and nuclear weapons, and relayed the intelligence back to Moscow Center, the headquarters of Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, or SVR, the affidavit said.

Foley, working as a real estate agent, also used a bogus identity, according to officials.

The affidavit does not give their real names, nor does it spell out the consequences of the alleged espionage. But it does say that FBI agents were tracing their every step and intercepting every secret electronic transmission for at least a decade.

Yesterday, the day after federal prosecutors in New York announced that the couple and nine other people had been accused of participating in an espionage ring in the United States, people who knew Heathfield said the allegations were shocking and distressing.

But they also painted a picture of someone whose schmoozing and constant presence at social gatherings drew notice.

“My main impression of him was he was someone who did a lot of networking,’’ said Sam Delson, a California state government official who was in the one-year, midcareer Kennedy School program with Heathfield for a master’s degree in public administration. “It wasn’t clear whether it was just being friendly, being social, or whether there was a business aspect to it as well.’’

He added in an e-mail, “Don was very friendly, but also somewhat mysterious.’’

Craig Sandler, another student in the program that year who now owns State House News Service in Boston, said that Heathfield was “friendly, intelligent, thoughtful, low-key, engaging, and, sure, a little bit mysterious.’’

“It never crossed my mind that he might be a spy, but it’s not completely flabbergasting,’’ he said. “He seems like a guy who would make a pretty good spy. . . . It’s really sad if it’s true.’’

Yesterday, the White House and the State Department sought to downplay the prospects of long-term damage in the improving US-Russian relationship as a result of the arrests. That could be because the damage to US security interests was apparently minor, given that FBI agents had infiltrated and tracked the alleged Russian “sleeper’’ ring for the past decade.

“We were not going to forgo the opportunity to pursue our common interests because there are things we disagreed on,’’ said Phil Gordon, the State Department’s top Russia policy official. “I think you should see this spying issue in that context.’’

Nonetheless, the episode is an extraordinary illustration of how the US government spends years tracking individuals it suspects are spies.

In January 2001, after Heathfield obtained his Harvard degree and had begun working as a sales consultant, FBI agents obtained a court order and secretly searched a safe deposit box in Cambridge registered to the couple, the affidavit said.

They found photographic negatives that appeared to be of Foley in her 20s, the affidavit said. The name of the company that made the film was excised from all the negatives except one, which bore the word Tacma. The FBI found that Tacma was a Soviet film company.

During the same search, agents found evidence that Heathfield had taken his identity from a deceased Canadian, including a birth certificate. They photographed the evidence and put it back. FBI agents later discovered an announcement from a Canadian newspaper that mentioned the death of the real Heathfield, the affidavit said.

Using electronic surveillance, agents allegedly heard the couple discussing intelligence they had relayed to Russia and intercepted electronic messages in which Heathfield reported he met with an official concerning the development of nuclear weapons.

In other intercepted messages, the couple’s handlers allegedly mentioned contacts Heathfield and Foley had made codenamed Parrot and Cat. The affidavit does not give their real identities.

Heathfield is chief executive officer of Future Map Strategic Advisory Services, a consulting firm he founded in 2006 and ran from his apartment, according to public records and his LinkedIn page. He worked as a sales consultant from 2000 to 2006 for Global Partners Inc., a Cambridge consulting firm, and then went from full time to freelance, according to the firm’s president, Paul Hesselschwerdt.

Foley worked for a real estate company, Redfin Real Estate, since January and was regarded as one of the most talented field agents, according to Alexander C.P. Coon, who hired her after what he described as a thorough background check.

“I’m just completely shocked,’’ Coon said at Redfin’s Somerville office. “She was nice, friendly, very normal. Isn’t that what they always say about the guys next door who turn out to be Russian spies?’’

Heathfield and Foley have two sons, ages 20 and 16. The couple was arrested Sunday night at their home on Trowbridge Street on charges of serving as unregistered agents of a foreign government and money laundering. They are being held at the Plymouth County House of Corrections.

Robert Sinsheimer, a Boston lawyer who met Foley for the first time Monday when the US District Court in Boston appointed him to represent her, said yesterday, “She seems to be very confused that she’s in custody, and her primary concern seems to be the welfare of her children.’’ He declined to comment further.

Catherine K. Byrne, an assistant federal public defender appointed to represent Heathfield, declined to comment on the case.

Heathfield and Foley are scheduled to appear in court again tomorrow for a hearing on whether they should remain jailed without bail.

For years, the couple rented an apartment on Trowbridge Street. On June 9, they bought a three-bedroom condominium for $790,000 on the same street, according to a posting in Banker & Tradesman. They obtained a $632,000 mortgage from Cambridge Savings Bank.

The FBI affidavit filed in federal court in Manhattan said that Russia’s intelligence organization, SVR, paid all expenses for the alleged spies, including housing, utilities, insurance, medical, legal, and educational costs.

Heathfield and Foley led people to believe they were French-Canadian, but a woman who lives next door to the couple said she became suspicious. Doris Stanley, who has lived on Trowbridge Street with her husband for about 10 years, said Foley introduced herself last week as her new neighbor.

“I kept thinking how nice this is; finally, there’s someone who’s really friendly,’’ Stanley, 65, said yesterday from her front porch. But then Stanley, a French teacher, said she noticed some inconsistencies.

“I noticed she had an accent, and I said — because I’m nosy — ‘What’s this accent you have?’ ’’ Stanley recalled. “And she said, ‘I’m from Montreal.’ ’’

The two women began speaking French. “I was thinking, ‘That’s strange,’ because I actually understood this person, and I usually don’t understand people from Montreal,’’ she recalled. “They have this accent that is not Parisian.’’

Since the couple’s arrest, doubts have been cast on other contentions they made.

Foley, for example, said on her LinkedIn page that she graduated from McGill University in Montreal. But a McGill official said yesterday that her statement appears to be bogus.

The Global Partners website said Heathfield had a bachelor’s degree in international economics from York University in Toronto, an MBA from École Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées in Paris, and advanced executive training from the London School of Economics.

A York spokesman confirmed that a Donald Heathfield with the same date of birth used by the alleged Russian spy graduated in 1995.

In addition to Heathfield and Foley, eight other alleged Russian spies were arrested Sunday in New York, New Jersey, and Virginia. The final suspect, Christopher Metsos, accused of being a Russian secret agent, was captured yesterday in Cyprus, trying to board a flight to Budapest, according to authorities. He will remain in Cyprus pending extradition proceedings, they said.

Globe staff writer Martin Finucane, and Globe correspondents Marissa Lang, Jack Nicas, and Alex Katz contributed to this report.

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